A grand jury has decided not to indict one of three police officers involved in the fatal shooting of a Hispanic Southaven man on July 23, 2017.
Ismael Lopez was shot after officers reported seeing the rifle barrel of a weapon protrude from the door during response to a warrant on a domestic charge for an unrelated individual in another dwelling.
In a press conference live-streamed across the Mid-South, District Attorney John Champion said the empaneled grand jury decided not to return a true bill of indictment against the unnamed Southaven police officer.
Champion said he met with the Lopez family last week before speaking to the media.
He expressed frustration at what he called a "poor autopsy report" by Dr. Lisa Funte, formerly with the Mississippi State Medical Examiner's Office who has since moved to Maine.
"All of you know my frustration with the Medical Examiner's Office which is grossly underfunded," Champion said, adding that when the Medical Examiner moved to Maine his office began the process to get the autopsy report from Funte.
"The autopsy was finally completed and sent to me in June," Champion said. "I began the process of presenting the case to the grand jury. It was continued to the July grand jury."
Champion said under Mississippi law he as District Attorney does not indict or file charges. Champion did say that he presented a case of manslaughter/homicide against one of the officers to the grand jury but they chose not to indict.
"The facts were presented and there was not an indictment," Champion said.
Champion went over the pertinent facts of the case, which he said showed that officers initially arrived after a warrant was issued out of Tate County for an individual who lived in the same area as the Lopez trailer.
Champion said the officers arrived and staged a surveillance near the residence and knocked on the door of what they believed was the address of the individual, a Caucasian, who was wanted on the domestic charge.
Champion said officers did not observe Lopez and did not hear him say anything.
When officers arrived the lights were turned on and after they knocked the lights were suddenly turned off. Champion acknowledged that officers did not immediately identify themselves at the door but Lopez' wife informed her husband that the police were outside, according to witness reports.
"The door opened and they could hear a dog barking," Champion said. "At that point one of the dogs came running out acting aggressively."
An officer fired two shots at the dog, grazing him but not wounding the dog seriously.
"About that time officers noticed a rifle came out of the door pointed at him," Champion said.
Champion said the officer shouted for the individual, later identified as Lopez, to put the gun down.
"The gun was being pulled back when the officer fired," Champion said.
Champion said Lopez was shot "in the back left quarter of the head."
Champion could not say why Lopez was turned or if he was responding to his wife who was located in another room.
Champion said he was hoping the autopsy report could have shed more light on the trajectory of the bullet that struck Lopez.
"I was hoping to get the angle of trajectory," Champion said. "It was a very poor autopsy report that we received. In my opinion, it was very poorly written."
Champion said on many occasions he has received a 10-page report and Funte's report was only between two and three pages.
Champion said it was "only seconds" between the time the officer yelled "to put the gun down … put the gun down" when the shots were fired. Four shots were fired into the residence.
Attempts were made to resuscitate Lopez according to Champion.
Champion said he met with the family whom he called "wonderful people."
"Obviously they are still grieving," Champion said.
Champion said as far as his office is concerned the case is closed but Lopez family and their attorneys have indicated further action, likely civil, since the there has been a determination no criminal charges will be filed in the case.
The Lopez family pastor called the grand jury's decision not to indict the Southaven officer who shot Lopez, "an outage."
"This is ridiculous," Pastor Orlando Rostro, an Assembly of God pastor, said immediately following Champion;s press conference. "This is a murder. He (Lopez) was a good man. He was a husband and a father."
Robert Lee Long is Community Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at email@example.com or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252